I can sum up my summer in a single sentence: 21 flights and probably less than 21 fights. I studied abroad in Paris from May to August, traveling across the European continent in my spare time. The days often bled into the nights which inevitably became the mornings before I would lay my head down on the pillow. Amid all the insomnia, unhealthy eating and nonstop movement I met people and experienced situations that gave me a second adolescence.
I grew more and less mature, sane and smart thanks to my travels and, in August, the time has come to return to real life.
For many people, the city of lights represents an ideal romantic city.
Set upon the Seine, most imagine bike rides filled with bubbling glee as the bold sun sets through the arc de triumph or cozy café mornings against a backdrop of whining violins and the light tapping of rain. A vision that likely doesn’t come to mind is the sketchy yelps of the homeless 4 a.m. wanderers in Montmarte. I experienced both. But the picturesque Paris held less value for me than the gritty, real city I experienced off the beaten path.
The eight weeks I spent in the city allowed me a cultural understanding that is not always granted to tourists.
The Eiffel Tower stuns you into submission. The structure truly escapes description with the sheer magnitude of its presence. That said, the awe the tower inspires is impermanent and the odds of experiencing something with lasting impact on the Champs de Mars lay somewhere next to falling off the tower itself. For the real culture of the city, try the less frequented arrondisements. Belleville, a quarter in the 20th district, provided the humble abode I stayed at in the city. I knew my grocer, barber, baker, butcher, kebab-maker and pharmacist by name. I tried French, Algerian and Ethiopian foods and I tried them for cheaper than you can buy a burger in St. Michel. I watched soccer games at bars with strangers and I saw the very same strangers’ brawl over the results. Most importantly, I never laid eyes upon a tourist within blocks of my apartment.
I’m not saying to not get anything from the touristy trips and vacations.
In a city like Paris, I am confident that simply standing in the metro for an hour injects a burst of culture into your bloodstream. However, the kind of lessons I learned about adulthood by being thrust into it are surely more valuable than the impressions I took from the Mona Lisa. I learned how to make friends in a foreign city and how to deflate conflict in tense situations. I saw the types of people who won’t ever be friendly. I also understood for the first time that sometimes, instead of staying the course in a situation you have to just leave for your own safety. With Kebab guys and shop owners as my mentors, I was instructed in the most important course you can take. The curriculum extended from social interaction to a little bit of French with a hard-Parisian accent and I can reasonably say that I passed.
Returning to college feels challenging.
I consider the University of Florida a beautiful school with beautiful people (like yours truly). One thing I certainly don’t consider so beautiful about any college is the crazy workload that comes along with classes. I am excited to see friends but much less excited to see my green Starbucks apron. I am excited to see the neon lights of the bars in midtown but not looking forward to the neon screen of my laptop. Having spent months abroad though, I am confident that my ability to balance the vices and virtues of my college experience has done nothing but improve. I doubt I’ll have a direct application for the play-by-play navigation of a post-bar kebab shop conflicts. At least I know that the principles prove valuable as I continue to discover life stateside.